BOGOR, Indonesia (Reuters) - Around 100 demonstrators rallied on Wednesday in favor of United States President George W. Bush’s trip to Indonesia next week, already the subject of scores of protests by those opposed.
The U.S. embassy in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has warned that protests over the brief November 20 visit could turn violent.
Bush will meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bogor, and groups ranging from radical Muslims to leftist students have staged rallies in cities across Indonesia criticizing Bush, Yudhoyono and U.S. policy, although most demonstrations have been small, seldom crossing the 100 mark.
Aside from citing such usual targets as U.S. actions in Iraq, critics have said massive security preparations ahead of the visit are over the top.
Preparations include construction of a helipad in the 87-hectare Bogor botanical gardens where the meeting’s state palace venue is located, and plans for thousands of security forces to be on hand.
Wednesday’s Bogor protesters — carrying a large American flag and banners showing the Stars-and-Stripes and red-and-white flag of Indonesia — had a different point of view.
“We are obligated to receive our guests properly. As a cultured nation, we have manners and any visitor should be treated like a guest,” said rally leader Unitaryo, adding his group is unaffiliated to any political or religious institution. A top official from the umbrella body representing Islamic clerics in Indonesia said last week Bush was not welcome because his policies had hurt Muslims, while some senior politicians have joined the chorus criticizing the cost of security arrangements.
However, a U.S. official in Jakarta suggested this week it was the criticism of the arrangements that was over the top.
“People write stories about security when they don’t have anything else to write about,” he told reporters.
“You have security because there are nasty people out there trying to kill people,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
Indonesia has seen several deadly bomb attacks in recent years directed against Western-linked targets and blamed on Islamic militants. The worst, in Bali four years ago, killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono had told reporters on Tuesday that Indonesians need to understand special treatment is part and parcel of any visit from a U.S. president.
“Like it or not, wherever the U.S. president goes a set of special security arrangements will follow because (of) the weight of this country. We just have to understand that reality,” he said.
In Bogor, set in foothills some 50 kms (30 miles) south of Jakarta, residents have grumbled about the preparations and restrictions they have to face for the Bush visit.
“Nobody wants to sacrifice for him. But this is an order from (Jakarta) and Bogor is just playing host,” said a Bogor government official who closely follows the preparations.
He said some schools, shops and government offices as well as many bus routes might be closed for the day although Bush would only arrive in the afternoon.
One reason preparations and security may be drawing attention is because the meeting itself does not promise to be particularly exciting. Neither side suggests it will achieve huge diplomatic breakthroughs.
In many key bilateral areas, such as working against violent militants in Southeast Asia, Jakarta and Washington are already on the same page, while on some topics they are unlikely to press one another hard for a change of heart.
The Indonesian government has been a staunch critic of U.S. policy in Iraq and Israel, and anti-American sentiment among the public has grown during the Bush administration.
Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia, Ami Liem and Jerry Norton in Jakarta